Stellaris: Synthetic Dawn

Game review by
Jeff Haynes, Common Sense Media
Stellaris: Synthetic Dawn Game Poster Image
Robot-focused expansion for dedicated series fans only.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this game.

Positive Messages

Focus on exploration and scientific accomplishments countered by warfare, xenophobia, optional genocide.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Players control entire civilization, can choose to be good or evil. Some robot civilizations go for eradication of organic life.

Ease of Play

Simple controls hide deep complexity. No tutorial -- expects familiarity, knowledge of gameplay. Random play elements can either save or doom game session, causing frustration.

Violence

Conflict breaks out between ships, but little shown apart from ship explosions, debris. Text descriptions of violence.

Sex
Language
Consumerism

Latest expansion for strategy franchise.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Stellaris: Synthetic Dawn is a downloadable expansion pack to 2016's strategy game, Stellaris. The title is a 4X strategy game, meaning that players will focus on exploring, expanding, exploiting, and exterminating to accomplish their goals as a spacefaring empire. While combat frequently breaks out between empires, visuals aren't graphic, and the result is ships exploding in vessel debris. Text descriptions cover more attacks or violent situations that arise for colonists, but these are still mild explanations of effects you never see. Players should be aware that this is perhaps the hardest version of Stellaris to date, because it expects that you have solid knowledge of the basic game and its expansions. Even with that, there are some game features that you may still stumble your way into without knowing. The robotic focus of the expansion builds extra complexity into an already deep game, so players will have some frustration to deal with many gameplay features out of their control.

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What's it about?

STELLARIS: SYNTHETIC DAWN is an expansion pack for Stellaris, a spacefaring game where players take command of a species as it tries to expand its control of the galaxy. The expansion brings in new gameplay features, primarily focusing on the addition of a robotic civilization to the universe. Players can be former servants that overthrew their masters and sought freedom, bots that are bent on the eradication of organic life, or droids that want to assimilate cultures to gain new understanding of life. There are new events that can happen to your civilization, which can allow for possible growth of robotic consciousness or a galactic AI-powered network. Apart from new profile pictures for races and AI voices that can be customized, there are new music tracks as well to heighten the electronic mood of this pack.

Is it any good?

For players looking to welcome their robot overlords, this expansion provides new races to control, but also ratchets up the difficulty level significantly, making it for hardcore series fans only. Stellaris: Synthetic Dawn lets players release themselves from biological issues, taking a turn as a robotic civilization trying to conquer the universe. It's an interesting switch, especially because you can be somewhat altruistic or destroy anything that isn't synthetic itself. While the alien races won't necessarily have a stronger reaction to you because you happen to be robotic, there are some definite advantages robots have that others don't. For example, robots don't have to worry about food as a resource, allowing players to repurpose those tiles on planets for more pressing concerns, like power or minerals. They also don't have to worry about population growth, because they simply build additional new bots to handle additional tasks. Additionally, players no longer have to worry about robots "dying" of old age or factional unrest, because that doesn't happen to them; they can still be destroyed in combat or by other incidents, but age and some of the "social unrest" issues don't occur in the same ways.

These bonuses don't make Synthetic Dawn any easier for players, though. The largest issue is that there's no tutorial for newcomers on how you run your new AI-driven empire or even get a foothold, so you're going to have to stumble your way through uncovering some of these bonuses. For example, it's very easy to move through a few months of a newly colonized world and not know why your population hasn't grown, only to discover afterward that you need to make them. Further, once you move past the initial curve of learning the intricacies of the robots, the distinctions start to evaporate: There are no Borg cubes to field or sleek-looking ships to build and control, because they look virtually identical to other cultures' vessels. Another problem is that it's easier to run into resource depletion if you're not careful, because droids seem to drain power and resources faster than other races. This makes stockpiling a bigger issue, especially in the early game when you're trying to establish a foothold on your corner of the galaxy. All this said, Synthetic Dawn provides a new challenge for series fans, but it's really a game that will appeal more to the hardcore Stellaris player than a newcomer or occasional space general.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about setting media-consumption time limits. These games are famous for luring gamers to keep playing for "just one more turn," so how do you strike the balance between time played and time away from your progress?

  • Talk about the idea of artificial intelligence (AI). Are you concerned that intelligent machines could become a threat to humanity? Do you think instead that robots and AI can be helpful to people?

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